Senior Lifestyles

Intergenerational bonding: 'Grand-Friends' program opens school to new supporters

Bottom left and right photos courtesy of Cathy Jensen; All other Photos by Tarang Gupta/Special to the Town Crier
Santa Rita School students – and the school’s mascot, the Bobcat – welcomed “grand-friends” to volunteer in the classroom at the inaugural “Grand-Friends Day” in September, above, below left and right, and bottom center. To promote intergenerational connections, National Charity League seventh-graders painted murals with The Terraces at Los Altos residents, bottom right.

Santa Rita School in Los Altos expanded its call to the community in September with the inaugural “Grand-Friends Day,” summoning a new generation back to school.

Students and their parents invited their elders to visit, learn and see if they’d be interested in returning to the classroom as volunteers.

“It is ‘grand-friends’ rather than just grandparents, because you have aunts and uncles, grand-aunts and grand-uncles, and neighbors you’ve adopted who play that role, and those are important relationships – and that matters,” explained event organizer Kanesha Baynard.

A Santa Rita parent, Baynard launched the program this year after experiencing a similar tradition of school volunteering and grand-involvement several years ago while living in Colorado. Her mother-in-law lived with the family as a “granny nanny,” convincing Baynard of the power of having hands-on support across generations – even if you move and lose access to the “granny nanny.”

“When you look at the community here, there are a lot of international grandparents and families living together,” she said.

Across households of all backgrounds, extended families aren’t necessarily talked about or folded into daytime life. Schools lean heavily on volunteers to enrich the day-to-day experience, she figured, and there’s an undertapped labor force in town.

“Parents are working a lot, but they have these grandparents who are fully capable, willing and available,” Baynard said. “We decided that we’d start small, with a first event that was way larger than anticipated.”

Organizing future special events like “Grand-Friends Day” in a way easy for out-of-town grandparents to plan on the calendar is part of Baynard’s scheme – she has parents in Georgia who’d love to get to see the school in action.

In this year’s first iteration, not every family had a “grand” on hand – and it was important that that was OK, too.

“We were really conscious that some kids weren’t able to have a grand-friend there, so we had activities they could do. You could write a letter or a postcard, and we’re going to think about that for next year – what can we do to make sure it’s not discouraging,” Baynard said.

Grand volunteers

Grandparents have already been volunteering in roles such as library book shelving and storytime at Santa Rita. After gathering volunteer interest forms from “grand” participants at the September event, the school is organizing how to stay in touch with interested grands looking for upcoming opportunities to be involved.

“My spouse and I are retired and live very close to the school,” said grand-friend Maureen Smith.

Smith attended to support her granddaughter, and to get a handle on upcoming opportunities to volunteer. The Smiths joined the cleanup crew for the Witches’ Delight Halloween party and fund- raiser last week, and in December they’re helping with a book fair and a classroom art project.

“We find it so rewarding,” she said. “Our granddaughter knows how much we care in our words plus actions. This interaction with all the children helps keep us young at heart, too. We hope Santa Rita School makes this a new tradition in the coming years.”

“What we’re learning is that there will be a retired grandparent who will have been a major player in a certain industry, they’ll hear we’re having a Science Olympiad, and they’ll say, ‘Hey, I know someone who does this,’” Baynard said.

But beyond harnessing help from the community, the event also aimed to support the individual relationship between child and grand.

“The kids were happy to be the expert and guide of their own school and introduce the grand-friends to their teacher – it gave them a huge confidence boost to see that school is for me, and it’s also for my parents and my grand-friends,” Baynard said.

Sylvia Spates, who has second- and fourth-grade granddaughters at Santa Rita, said she was thrilled to meet other grand-friends as well as the school’s teachers, administrators and PTA.

“It was an honor to be able to see where my granddaughters spend so much of their time,” she said. “And I think it meant a lot to them to share their school with me.”

Intergenerational connections

In addition to “grand” events on campus, the Santa Rita community has connections to The Terraces at Los Altos, a retirement community located just behind Santa Rita School.

As The Terraces continues its final phase of a substantial redevelopment project, one construction feature has gotten an upgrade. Seventh-graders from the National Charity League painted murals with Terraces residents to line the long walkway dividing the construction site from the school.

“The wall mural was an idea from two residents who live here – one is a major watercolor artist,” said Cathy Jensen, who directs residential services at The Terraces.

Residents, employees and guests use the walkway.

“It looks amazing – their vision was to make a dirty, dusty construction-site wall into a positive experience for all who walk along the path,” Jensen said.

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